For now, the BP gas station on West Seventh Street in Frederick looks exactly like a gas station.
There are pumps outside, while just inside the door sits a rack that holds motor oil, antifreeze, brake fluid and other automotive essentials.
Another rack has beef jerky, chewing gum and candy bars, while along one wall, coolers hum as they keep row after row of sodas cold.
A window on the side of the shop looks into two empty service bays, and this is where new owner Suresh Volate has big plans.
He envisions turning the garage area into a sort of takeout restaurant, a place where workers from Frederick Memorial Hospital across the street or the nearby businesses can come to get a quick, healthy breakfast or lunch.
He recently had a kitchen designer come look at the space, and on Thursday he was expecting to get the designer’s feedback shortly.
He said the restaurant will serve food in bowls and other easily transportable ways so that customers can get their orders quickly and take their food with them.
“It’s going to be like a food truck without a food truck,” Volate said.
Volate comes to the restaurant industry naturally.
His parents opened the first Indian restaurant in Columbia, South Carolina, he said, along with a grocery store.
But Volate took a different path to his new business on West Seventh Street.
He has a doctorate in molecular oncology, and first moved to Frederick to do postdoctorate work at the National Cancer Institute at Fort Detrick.
He worked as a lab manager at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., but when the funding for the position ended, he found himself looking for his next opportunity.
He had long felt the urge to work for himself, and he enrolled in Public Assistance to Entrepreneurship, a class run by the Maryland Small Business Development Center, and administered by the Maryland Department of Human Services, that taught him the basics of how to operate a business.
He and his classmates learned about marketing, financial statements, funding options, and other aspects of running a business.
“It was basically an MBA [degree] in two months,” he said.
Volate was recognized on Thursday by officials from the Maryland Department of Human Services and the Frederick County Department of Social Services.
The state program can help people who have owned a business or are interested in owning one, said Steven Benden, director of strategy and performance for the Department of Human Services.
“It’s all about putting back into the community, investing in the community,” he said.
Alumni such as Volate, whom DSS had helped get health insurance for himself and his daughter while he was between jobs, can be a good example and motivation for others in the program, said Martha Sprow, director of the Frederick County Department of Social Services.
Her department refers clients to the classes and pays some of the cost for them to attend.
They currently have their second class of aspiring entrepreneurs, with eight members, she said.
“We have success. We can show that it works,” Sprow said.
Volate said he bought the gas station because he can run it himself while he waits for the restaurant to be built and the city to sign off on his plans and permits.
Once everything is complete, he estimates that he’ll have to hire 16 people to keep things running.
He said the training he received from the program helped convince him that he could make the leap to owning his own business.
“It gave me confidence that my last bit of money was going to be a good investment,” he said.